Are your crisis plans ready for prime time? If you haven’t practiced them lately, the answer may be no. However, there are steps you can take to make sure your plans are ready to roll in the event of an emergency—and you don’t have to wait for a real emergency to test them.
“Whether you’re managing having a fire in a building or a liquidity crisis at a bank or you have an executive involved in an alleged #MeToo situation, the crisis management plan and the best practices are very similar,” explained Rob Currie, owner and founder of RC Advisory Services and vice chair of the ASIS Crisis Management and Business Continuity Subject Area Community. “We’re big proponents of simple, reliable and repeatable.”
How to Get Started
The key to building a good crisis management plan is identifying stakeholders, Currie said. Stakeholders are anyone your organization interacts with, internally or externally. Think of who would need to hear from you if a crisis happened at your facility. Internal stakeholders would include people like your employees and your board of directors, while external stakeholders could be anyone from customers, vendors and service providers, neighbors and local government agencies.
This means you need to talk to your neighbors about their roles if you’re having a crisis, and you should also talk to them about their own crisis management plans. This information will help you develop a risk register to identify vulnerabilities, another key step. Their emergency management people may have insights into common issues that buildings in your area face, such as protests against a nearby manufacturer that spill over into neighboring buildings, Currie said.
Once you’ve identified the most probable and impactful events, it’s time to get your team together and start practicing. This sounds complex and time-consuming, but your first objective is actually very simple, Currie said: “Get your crisis management team, the right people and the right stakeholders around the table. Do we have the right people around and are we set up to start working on the problem? I would stop the first exercise there.” This step is often overlooked by crisis management teams, but it’s crucial for success. When a real crisis hits, if you can’t get your team together and set them up for success, you can’t respond effectively.
Make Sure Your Team is Prepared
When you know who’s on the team, you can start practicing with everyone. Your plan can’t possibly account for every potential possibility, and trying to develop checklists and prescriptive procedures for every type of crisis is a good way to get stuck in the weeds. Organizations often have overly detailed crisis plans that are inches thick and have detailed, linear steps to follow, yet haven’t practiced enough.
Practicing your plan is the most important thing to do, and it can help you streamline your response when a real crisis arrives. A consultant can help you with both training (lessons on how to handle things) and exercising (practicing what you’ve learned). Start with the basics. Currie advised taking 10 minutes to talk through an issue; for example, you could start by assembling your crisis operations team and making sure you can quickly find a spare room, test connectivity, find a way to keep track of decisions and gather communications equipment.
“The other key part is maintenance,” Currie said of emergency plans. “I recommend 30-day refreshes. If we made the call tomorrow, who is responding? Who would be there tomorrow? Just validate who’s on the team.” This step can be delegated to junior staff if needed; they can reach out to everyone on the team, confirm their current contact information and identify backup personnel who can respond if anyone is unavailable during a real crisis.
7 Crisis Management Principles
The crisis team members all need to be on the same page, whether you’re practicing or dealing with an actual crisis. One way to ensure this happens is to adhere to basic principles as a team. Currie recommends that crisis directors read these seven basic principles aloud to the team at the outset of any crisis.
1. Agree to disagree on concepts. “If we don’t debate, we might not get to the best creative solutions,” Currie said.
2. Identify the current risks to the company. “What’s the biggest issue right now?” Currie asked. “I see crisis management teams go off and try to fix legacy problems. No, right now it’s a protest in the lobby. That’s our issue. We’re not doing a study on ransomware. Keep people focused on what the current risks are.”
3. Assess the current possible impacts. Understand how the current problem is impacting different areas of your company. With the example of a nearby protest spilling into your lobby, there could be safety risks, or the press could misread the situation and assume the protest is about you. Consider all angles.
4. Determine your priorities. Figure out your No. 1 issue, then start working the rest. “If you have the right experts around the table, this should go fairly quickly,” Currie said.
5. Make and communicate decisions and lead the corporate response. All stakeholders need to understand your decisions. Communicate them to your leadership, external stakeholders and internal partners.
6. Be guided by moral and ethical considerations. Currie often points to the example of Johnson & Johnson’s massive 1982 recall of millions of bottles of Tylenol. A few bottles in the Chicagoland area had been tampered with after stores put them out for sale, resulting in several deaths. The company immediately halted production and advertising of Tylenol and eventually developed extra-secure packaging to help prevent future tampering. Johnson & Johnson was widely hailed for its proactive and transparent handling of the crisis, and Tylenol quickly regained its position as the country’s top analgesic. “The trust in the company is still there,” Currie said. “They made the right moral and ethical decision, not one solely based on finances.”
7. Challenge and be wary of assumptions. Get the truth before you make decisions based on information from others.
Communicating During a Crisis
Clear and effective communication should be a cornerstone of your crisis management plan. The public relations portion of your crisis management plan should “include clear, actionable steps and list pre-approved members to form a crisis communications team that can determine the company’s messaging and positioning in the event of a disaster,” said Heather Ripley, founder and CEO of Ripley PR, a global public relations agency.
The communications portion of your crisis plan should include:
- Likely scenarios that could happen, and a general plan for each one in case it occurs
- An internal communications strategy that identifies a hierarchy of people to immediately contact about incidents, as well as how to address tenants and other stakeholders
- A company spokesperson
- A plan for dealing with the news media
- Methods of disseminating information to anyone who is affected by an incident
The building owner or manager may be tapped to play a role in communications, especially concerning evacuation plans and rescue efforts for tenants. Building managers are also likely to serve as the point of contact for emergency service personnel and any repair or cleanup crews, and may even be called upon to speak to the media or to advise the media spokesperson. It’s a good idea to have your director of facilities take a media training course from a public relations professional so they’re prepared to step into this role, Ripley advised.
“Even if a crisis never occurs, there’s always a chance that a building manager might have to talk to the media about other issues,” Ripley said. “It’s a good idea that anyone in your organization who may encounter the press have media training.”
Not preparing for a crisis can create unnecessary headaches, embarrassment for your organization and even potentially your company’s downfall, so it’s vital that all facets of your response are appropriate. Preparation takes time and energy, but it’s worth it when a crisis hits.
“You can’t just will a crisis away,” Ripley said. “The best way to deal with crises is to get in front of them and respond as quickly as you can. A crisis management plan helps you prepare for disastrous events and control the narrative.”